June 20, 2021

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How likely is ethylene oxide to cause cancer?

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How likely is ethylene oxide to cause cancer?


How likely is ethylene oxide to cause cancer? More and more cases showing that workers exposed to ethylene oxide get leukemia and gastric cancer.

However, these data are not considered conclusive. Studies have been conducted to evaluate the carcinogenicity of ethylene oxide in rats and mice that inhaled ethylene oxide. Leukemias, brain tumors, lung tumors and other cancers have been observed in these animals.

More and more health department in many countries believe that ethylene oxide may be a human carcinogen.


Determine the hazards of the carcinogen Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene oxide is an organic compound with the chemical formula C2H4O.

It is a toxic carcinogen and was used to make fungicides in the past.  Ethylene oxide is flammable and explosive, and it is not easy to transport over long distances, so it has strong regional characteristics.

Ethylene oxide is the second-generation chemical disinfectant after formaldehyde. It is still one of the best cold disinfectants. It is also the most important one of four major low-temperature sterilization technologies (low-temperature plasma, low-temperature formaldehyde steam, ethylene oxide , Glutaraldehyde). 

Ethylene oxideis a simple epoxy compound, a non-specific alkyl compound, with a molecular formula of C2H4O and a molecular weight of 44.05.

It is widely used in washing, pharmacy, printing and dyeing industries. It can be used as a starting agent for cleaning agents in the chemical industry.


Hazardous factor classification catalogHave
GBZ2.1 limitPC-TWA=2mg/m 3 , overrun multiple=2.5
classificationG1 (Carcinogenic site: peritoneal cancer, leukemia)
Occupational diseases that can causeAcute toxic encephalopathy; acute and chronic toxic peripheral neuropathy
U.S. limitACGIH2015 TWA : 1ppm
NIOSH TWA :<0.1 ppm;C 5 ppm (9mg/m3) [10-min/day]
NIOSH TWA :<0.1 ppm;C 5 ppm (9mg/m3) [10-min/day]
OSHA TWA: 1ppm ;5 ppm [15-minute Excursion]
IDLH 800ppm
UK limitEH40 TWA : 5ppm
Route of exposureDirect contact with respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract (liquid), skin and / or eyes

Chronic poisoning case information

A patient is a worker who is in direct contact with ethylene oxide and has been in contact for 12 years. The main task is to put the sterilization cabinet into the sterilization furnace and pass ethylene oxide (5~8kg ethylene oxide in one sterilization process) ), heat fumigation and sterilization for 8 hours, after sterilization, vacuumize for air cleaning. When opening the furnace, use strong exhaust air to ventilate, and open the furnace 1 to 3 times a day.

The patient started with chest tightness, and the symptoms gradually worsened after the onset, and symptoms such as numbness of legs and feet, weakness of the limbs, blurred vision, dysfunction, etc., especially the lower limbs, clammy, weak walking, lower limb symptoms heavier than upper limbs, neuroelectromyogram showed that Peripheral nerve damage is mainly manifested as a rare mononeuropathy.

Personal Protection and Sanitation (Personal Protection/Sanitation)

Skin: Wear suitable personal protective clothing to prevent direct skin contact. (liquid)

Eyes: Wear suitable eye protection equipment to prevent direct eye contact. (liquid)

Cleanse the skin: When the skin is contaminated, the contaminated skin should be cleaned immediately. (liquid)

Removal: If the work clothes are soaked with flammable substances (that is, liquids with a flash point below 100°F), they should be removed immediately and properly disposed of to prevent fire.

Change: There is no special suggestion for changing clothes after shift.

Equipped: In the workplace close to the place that may be exposed to chemical substances, it should be equipped with equipment for quick showering of the body for emergency use. [Note: These devices should be able to provide sufficient water or flowing water to remove the chemical substance from any part of the body that may be in contact. The actual provision of suitable rapid shower equipment depends on the specific conditions of the workplace. In some cases, a large flow shower must be carried out in time, while in other cases, only a sink or hose is sufficient to supply water. ]

First aid

Eyes: If your eyes are in direct contact with chemical substances, immediately rinse (irrigate) your eyes with plenty of water, open the upper and lower eyelids from time to time, and seek medical attention immediately.

Skin: If the chemical substance comes into direct contact with the skin, immediately rinse the contaminated skin with water. If the chemical penetrates into the clothes, remove the clothes quickly, rinse the contaminated skin with water, and seek immediate medical attention.

Respiration: If the contact person inhales a large amount of the chemical substance, immediately move the contact person to fresh air. If breathing stops, give artificial respiration, keep warm and rest. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Ingestion: If the chemical substance is swallowed, seek medical attention immediately. (liquid)

Fire fighting method: cut off the gas source. If the gas source cannot be cut off immediately, it is not allowed to extinguish the burning gas. Spray water to cool the container. If possible, move the container from the fire scene to an open place. Extinguishing agent: water mist, alcohol-resistant foam, dry powder, carbon dioxide.

Recommendations for respirator selection: NIOSH

  • NIOSH~5ppm:
  • GmFS: Any air-filtering full-facepiece respirator (gas mask), equipped with a chin-type, front-type or back-mounted canister to prevent the chemical substance. Specify protection factor=50.
  • ScbaF: Any self-contained breathing apparatus with full face mask. Specify protection factor=50.
  • SaF: Any supplied-air respirator with a full face mask. Specify protection factor=50.

Emergency rescue, or prepare to enter the environment with unknown concentration, or enter the IDLH environment:

ScbaF: Pd, Pp: any pressure-demand or positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus with full face mask. Designated protection factor = 10,000.

SaF:Pd,Pp:Ascba: any pressure-demand or positive-pressure supplied-air respirator, equipped with a full face mask, with pressure-demand or positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus. Designated protection factor = 10,000.


GmFS: Any air-filtering full-facepiece respirator (gas mask), equipped with a chin-type, front-type or back-mounted canister to prevent the chemical substance. Specify protection factor=50.

ScbaE: Any self-contained breathing apparatus suitable for escape.

(source:internet, reference only)

Disclarimer of medicaltrend.org

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